Anna Julia Haywood Cooper (1858 – 1964)
“I speak for the colored women of the South, because it is there that the millions of blacks in this country have watered the soil with blood and tears, and it is there too that the colored woman of America has made her characteristic history and there her destiny is evolving.”
Anna Julia Cooper, World’s Congress of Representative Women, 1893 Chicago World Fair
Anna Julia Haywood Cooper was a writer, teacher, and activist who championed education for African Americans and women. Born into bondage in 1858 in Raleigh, North Carolina, she was the daughter of an enslaved woman, Hannah Stanley, and her owner, George Washington Haywood. In 1867 Anna began her formal education. In 1877 she married George A.G. Cooper, a teacher of theology. When her husband died in 1879, Cooper decided to pursue a college degree. She attended Oberlin College in Ohio on a tuition scholarship, earning a BA in 1884 and a Masters in Mathematics in 1887. After graduation Cooper worked at Wilberforce University and Saint Augustine’s before moving to Washington, D.C. to teach at Washington Colored High School.
Cooper published her first book, A Voice from the South by a Black Woman of the South, in 1892. In addition to calling for equal education for women, A Voice from the South advanced Cooper’s assertion that educated African American women were necessary for uplifting the entire black race. The book of essays gained national attention. In 1902, Cooper began a controversial stint as principal of M Street High School (formerly Washington Colored High). The white Washington, D.C. school board disagreed with her educational approach for black students, which focused on college preparation, and she resigned in 1906.
In addition to working to advance African American educational opportunities, Cooper also established and co-founded several organizations to promote black civil rights causes. Since the Young Women’s Christian Association (YWCA) and the Young Men’s Christian Association (YMCA) did not accept African American members, she created “colored” branches to provide support for young black migrants moving from the South into Washington, D.C.
Cooper resumed graduate study in 1911 at Columbia University in New York City. When her brother died she postponed her doctoral studies to raise his five grandchildren. She returned to school in 1924 when she enrolled at the University of Paris in France. In 1925, at the age of 67, Cooper became the fourth African American woman to obtain a PhD.
In 1930, Cooper retired from teaching to assume the presidency of Frelinghuysen University, a school for black adults. She served as the school’s registrar after it was reorganized into the Frelinghuysen Group of Schools for Colored People. Cooper remained in that position until the school closed in the 1950s. Anna Julia Cooper died in 1964 in Washington, D.C. at the age of 105.
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